Graham Greene, a 20th century author who worked in a variety of literary genres, made a distinction in classifying his work as either a “serious” work or an “entertainment.” Greene did write about serious issues in some of his novels—most notably the meaning and sustaining of faith in a world that oftentimes wracks us with existential doubt. But he also wrote stories that were meant to amuse us, to reduce the amount of ratiocination required while perusing the words on the page. I’ve always thought that this distinction between the two types of work is a good one.
Although Johnny deals with some aspects of Super Bowl XXXVII in the post below, I’d like to make a few different observations about what is evidently a testosterone-fueled event that has taken on mega-Dionysian proportions during the past few years. It is interesting to look back at Hunter Thompson’s writings on his holding forth on the scriptures while on the balcony of a Hyatt with what was perceived a large leech crawling up the back of his spine on a Super Bowl Sunday morning. The absurdity of the actual event in and of itself today is in many ways far in excess of what was then chronicled by Thompson as something that was bizarre.
Although there are undoubtedly women who watch the Super Bowl—some out of genuine interest in sport; some simply because it is the thing to do one day in January because there is a related party—at the risk of being offensive to the women who read this site, I’ve got to say that the whole thing is essentially a celebration of what it is to be a Guy. There are Big Guys—no, MASSIVE GUYS—who are out of the field of “battle” bashing into each other with orchestrated abandon; there are beer commercials that write the subtext of: “This is what guys do: have fun, drink beer, and get down with gorgeous women.” Of course, many of the men who are watching this are completely out of shape and see women of that ilk only in their Playboy-induced wet dreams. But, hey, it is a big day for men. There should be little curiosity about the fact that ABC followed the Super Bowl with Jennifer Garner wearing lingerie in “Alias” and the debut of the new show with “The Man Show” co-host, Jimmy Kimmel.
Although Johnny takes issue with Shania’s ostensible lip-syncing, according to a recent piece on Slate, she actually sang, though the music behind her and the backup vocals were canned. But more to the point of Shania’s performance was that it was pure “entertainment” in the Greeneian-sense. “Man, I Feel Like a Woman,” indeed: her sparkling bra was all that really mattered as she flounced around the stage (just as Beyoncé’s sexual energy field made Carlos irrelevant). When the camera turned from Shania high on a cherry picker to a spotlighted Gwen Stefani, she was doing push-ups, which is arguably her acknowledgement that compared with Shania, she needs to do some work to build up her pecs to achieve those proportions: Stefani’s red bra under her glittery bra was, in effect, a comparative training bra. Of course, Gwen strutted her stuff in a way that was meant to eroticize what she has working. (And although this would be an opportune time to take a crack or eight at Sting, who joined No Doubt for “Message In a Bottle,” I’ll not take the diversion, enjoyable though it would be.)
In the case of the half-time show, the distinction that needs to be made is that this is all about entertainment, pure and simple. It’s about entertainers, not about artists. It may seem that I am being too blatant in the examination of physiology here, but there should be little in the way of illusion—or delusion—vis-à-vis the point of the undertaking. Hell, so far as most of the Super Bowl fan base would be concerned, there could be a halftime show that would be nothing more than Pamela Anderson or Angelina Jolie just standing there in a relative state of undress.
Beyond the Super Bowl, however, there is a question that isn’t often considered, which is simply this: What is the extent to which the success or failure of a musical performer predicated on their attractiveness/sexuality quotient? How much does talent really matter? Would we be as forgiving of a fat-peg-legged female crooner as we are of Stefani (or fill in your own name)? With the notable exception Meat Loaf (who has obviously joined Jared in eating Subway), what obsese men make it in music?
How much of what we consider to be “serious” music is nothing more than “entertainment,” (im)pure and simple?